Social media threatens the art of doing nothing

Daily internet usage can drain our individualism and our livelihoods

Dante Caloia talks about the importance of analyzing how we interact with the Internet.

Think about the last time you did nothing. I don’t mean scrolling through your phone mindlessly, or half-watching Netflix—I mean doing absolutely nothing. 

The odds are high that it’s been a while since you actually did so with no distractions.

In 2020, when everyone has devices in their pockets laced with the potential to provide instant gratification and dopamine, it’s easy to forget about the art of being bored. I bet most of the people reading this check their phones within the first hour of waking up, as well as within the last hour before they go to bed.

It’s inevitable to scroll mindlessly when we can scroll through unlimited pictures on Instagram, autoplay YouTube videos, and tap through games like Angry Birds and Candy Crush.

But in doing so, we’ve lost an aspect of our lives many of us used to take for granted. That aspect is the ability to reflect on life and observe what’s going on around us. We’re too busy buried in our screens to open our eyes to the world around us. No matter what the backdrop is, I notice people tend to default to using their phones when any type of awkward or uncomfortable situation arises —and, in that, we’ve lost part of what makes our private lives special: the ability to do nothing.

For example, while waiting in line for food at Location 21 recently, I noticed that the moments between when people ordered and were waiting for their food, they would pull out their phones. I’m a culprit of that as well.

In realizing this, I’ve made a conscious decision to force myself to deal with the uncomfortable feeling of having nothing to do. This has benefited me positively: it’s allowed me to take in and appreciate my surroundings, and think about what’s important to me.

If you still don’t believe we use phones as a coping mechanism for awkwardness, try this: next time you’re in a public place waiting around for someone or something, keep your phone off and wait. You’ll feel odd, almost like something is missing, and most of all, you’ll feel slightly uncomfortable.

In part, this is because our bodies and our minds have gotten used to having our phones ready 24/7. It’s killing many aspects of our social lives, including our love lives—but that’s not the only thing we’re losing.

We’re also losing our sense of privacy.

Between posting play-by-plays of entire concerts or even nights out on our Snapchats and Instagrams, we’re constantly oversharing. That public mindset has more effects on our mental health and our social interactions than we realize.

The most obvious of these effects is that we all appear to talk less. In my experience, we spend more time on our screens than we do making small talk with those around us. We’re also losing many of the pastimes that our predecessors took part in, like reading. Think about the last time you read a whole book for fun.

Many of my friends can’t even remember the last time they read a book outside of English class, let alone picked one up. Things like drawing, creative writing, and other positively-stimulating activities are being left in the dust these days, all because of our new doomsday devices.

We’re also losing the ability to think for ourselves.

Most mainstream social media platforms are rife with contradicting political views and statements, meaning that, given the amount most of us are on these sites, we’re bound to develop a belief system based on what’s being fed to us constantly.

In an era of fake news, it’s easy to be dragged into false propaganda. The best demonstration of this is Instagram crisis exploitation. After any major crisis, multiple new accounts pop up on the app claiming things like “For every like, we donate a meal,” or “For every share, a child is saved.”

The most well-known example of this is the false charity accounts that surfaced after the Sudanese crisis. The accounts all claimed they would help those in need, only to fail to follow through. Although there may be some legitimate accounts carrying out these activities, the majority of accounts appearing during world crises are scammers trying to gain fame from a bad situation. Many know this, but they still get millions of likes and shares.

My theory as to why this occurs is that people have always followed the masses, and that’s not going to stop now that we’ve gone digital. All it takes is a few people agreeing with a scam account, and—if you pair our lower attention spans with our need to mimic what others do—it takes no time at all for a fraud to become famous. 

Similarly, it takes no time for an individual that doesn’t quite deserve it to achieve infamy.

Think about cancel culture. Someone does something diminutively wrong, and they’re immediately ridiculed or called out online. Sometimes, this may only be because their words, actions, or images were taken out of context or edited, but the damage is already done the moment that we send out those initial accusations.

We find it so easy to be rude or make snap decisions behind the comfort of a screen by saying things we would never dare say in person. For most of society, if a lot of people are taking part in something, that’s good enough. No explanation is needed.

That’s where we need to be careful with our social media usage. If we took the time to be bored and think twice about what we were doing, and maybe decided to practice individualism, vicious mob mentalities would take more of a backseat in our culture.

But, perhaps most importantly, I believe it would instill some hope into the future of our generation and for those to come—hope that we can be kind to each other by spending some time being kind to ourselves, instead of being absorbed in our screens.

Dante Caloia is a first-year Arts student.

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